by Sun Liping, Professor of Sociology at Tsinghua University
(Continued from yesterday's post)
8. Society has lost the ability to think long-term. Vested interest groups formed on bureaucratic capitalism pay overly great attention to short term interests; they have neither the ancient emperors' responsibility toward their descendants, nor the nobleman's detachment and transcending spirit. There is a tendency in our society for an exaggeration-syndrome over short-term problems to co-exist with a numbness-syndrome over long-term behavior. For every problem at the moment, each bush and tree looks like an enemy soldier; Problems concerning our descendants and society's long-term development all meet with a blind eye. "Get drunk today when there is still wine" becomes institutionalized behavior. With resource and environmental issues, they drain the lake to catch all the fish. Facing institutional malpractice, they put off whenever they can. The city of Handan went through ten mayors in a decade. The national average for a mayor's term is now 1.7 years. In the first half of each term, the job is to "hold up [the new leadership] onto the horse and accompany them for a distance"; in the second half of the term it is to search for and train the successor. Power and interest before one's eye is everything; there is no time to do real things.
9. Why can't counter-corruption be carried out effectively? This shows how things are weighed from the perspective of vested interests, i.e., which is more frightening, the corruption, or the prospect of appealling to society in order to institute counter-corruption measures? This logic of course holds for a corrupt individual, but when it transforms into an institutional logic, the problem becomes severe. Unfortunately, the above logic is far from non-institutional. Many years of counter-corruption activities basically stop at the point of making a show and killing the chicken to frighten the monkey. When it comes to substantial measures in countering corruption, despite the fact that everyone, top to bottom, knows what is going on, there has never been fundamental progress, let alone an appeal to society to implement measures for counter-corruption.
10. Maintaining vested interests is a tiring job, and our society has placed too much of its energy and resources behind this. To maintain vested interests, freedom of speech must be suppressed. Just think about it, how much energy and resources have been used to suppress those voices? To maintain vested interests, democracy the obstruction must be bypassed using every possible means. Just think about it, how much energy have we wasted on justifying, how many reasons and theories have we made up, in order not to have democracy? To maintain vested interests, we have to suppress the people's rightful expression of interest, as a consequence how many mass incidents have brewed, and how much energy has been spent on resolving those mass incidents? To maintain vested interests, we don't dare to adopt many effective counter-corruption measures used in other countries, and we have to use those clumsy and ineffective campaign-style methods. How much more energy and resources have been wasted with those campaigns? One must know that, to simultaneously realize the two goals of maximizing vested interests and maintaining normal operation of society is a considerably difficult and laborious thing to do. It tires our system, and it tires the management. The psychological burden is heavy from the system to the manager. More importantly, to maintain vested interests, our society needs to pay a deeper and further cost. For instance, why do we have to criticize universal values on a grand scale? Does something in universal values make us lose our temper? To be frank, it is democracy and liberty. Because they threaten vested interests, but to directly criticize democracy and liberty does not sound good, so those in power have to take on universal values. In today's faithless and morally degraded reality, even universal values become the subject of criticism, the consequence is predictable. But for the sake of vested interests, it has to be done.
11. The root cause for societal breakdown is the formation of bureaucratic capitalism. In the past, many viewed power and the free market as two opposite things, now one can see the two things are married in China. This is like two people whom others think it would be impossible to marry are wed. Not only they married, but they live well together. In the past there was this thought that power would be restricted in a market economy; Now it is exactly the emergence of the market that provides power with greater opportunity for its use. The market is the market in which power plays a role, power is the power used in the market. Furthermore, power is traded at a better price in the market. This is the problem we face right now. In 2002 I raised the "broken society" concept (see http://www.blogchina.com/20090210664016.html). Vested interest groups under bureaucratic capitalism can form a divide between "us" and "them." As analyzed above, this divide has created a psychological distance.
12. China's realm of ideology faces the marriage between power and money. Both power and markets need to be regulated, but more importantly the link between the two must be severed. Recently Mr. Mao Yushi proposed to "prohibit the rich from having power, prohibit the powerful from making money," which is the same idea. We must see that the key problem is the marriage between power and money. But the situation in China's current realm of ideology is like this: Presently, power and money the seemly unmarriageable two have made a family and are living well together. Now, a dispute appears between the leftist and the rightist. One says, in the family, the husband is a good husband, the wife is a bad wife. The other says, but the wife is the good one and the husband is bad. The two sides quarrel fiercely, while the married couple are living their sweet life.
13. Due to the wrong way of thinking, all kinds of measures in "maintaining stability" have made it impossible to carry out reforms to help society's health, and the consequence is further exacerbation of societal breakdown. Social unrest can be handled by "maintaining stability," while societal breakdown is much harder to deal with. I recall the time when the former President of Philippines, Estrada, fell because of corruption, one American media outlet commented that the internal wound caused by the country's corruption might need its people to pay the cost for 100 years. When corruption becomes a life style, when corruption becomes an irreproachable value, when corruption becomes a thing that everyone curses yet everyone wants, the entire social life enters a state of metamorphosis. History will prove that, "stability" not only can't prevail over everything, its pursuit can destroy everything. The stiff thinking to have stability prevail over everything will kill any sprouting effort at making our nation healthy.
14. The marriage of power and money and the corruption it causes have fundamentally distorted China's social development process. Last year was the 30th anniversary of China's reform. At such an important moment, people expected a serious summary and in-depth reflection upon the past. Regrettably however, cheap praise and meaningless set-expressions lost the great opportunity. This shows we have lost the ability and courage to face reality, including reform. In fact, as I emphasized in a series of articles in 2005, to some extent reform is becoming a war of property robbery. The consensus on reform has basically fallen through; the drive for reform has been lost. The reason? It is that reform is constrained by the frame of vested interests. Even the really open-minded reformer is unable to get rid of such constraints. In this situation, the mechanism to distort reform has formed. Even a reform with the best motive can have the opposite result.
15. Actually, China's reform is neither as good as some have said, nor as bad as others have said. I never agree to completely attribute the economic development speed and the improvement in people's material life to reform. As long as there are no unusual natural or man-made disasters, the economy will develop as a matter of fact. Some people often compare today's material life with that of 30 years ago, in order to illustrate the success of reform. But in fact, in addition to the fact that normal social development has been driven by technology progress, the decrease of birth rate and average family size is also an important factor. If today's cities, had many families with 3 children, what kind of life would it be? Therefore we can say that reform and opening-up have benefited from family planning, and that reform has benefited from opening-up (which speeds technological progress). This is not to deny reform, but to take a rational attitude toward it. The real meaning of reform is to transform China from a distorted and metamorphic society into a normal society and merge it into the mainstream of human civilization. A market economy is only a limited part of it. And this process is far from complete, in recent years has even been retreating.
16. China's reform has congenital deficiency. Reflecting on its starting point can help us re-think a few issues. China's reform actually did not start from "the verge of collapse of the national economy." The launch of the reform was the result of several forces combined. There was people's desire to improve their economic condition, and there was intellectuals' ideal of changing the status quo, but more importantly there was the demand from those who lost their power in the Cultural Revolution to return to the power center. The latter includes two kinds of people: those who wanted to return to the 17 years before the Cultural Revolution, and those who wanted to borrow the opportunity to advance into a new civilization. In the early 1980s reform was controlled by this part of the people. However, what was in contrast to the situation then was only the absurd years of the Cultural Revolution, therefore the power-holders were full of confidence. This confidence created the enlightened period of the 1980s. However the surface progress concealed the fundamental deficits of the reform, i.e., its lack of a real value target that leads to a new civilization.
17. "Stability" has begun to become a means to maintain the existing structure of vested interests. (The end)